Last year, I wrote a column extolling the virtues of being a member of a minority political viewpoint on campus. Today, I write a companion column delineating the detriments that arise when campus discussion is dominated by the liberal viewpoint. And it is my claim that, paradoxically, those harmed above all by this status quo are liberal students.
The negative effects are bountiful. Often discussed is the fact that disenfranchised perspectives on specific issues go unheard. This is true. A Chronicle story published last semester reported on how Duke students opposing same-sex marriage remain, almost without exception, silent. The same in my experience could be said for pro-life, anti-affirmative action and pro-Second Amendment arguments. This political climate robs students of vital preparation for rebutting arguments with which they disagree. From a sheer standpoint of teaching argumentation, you cannot learn to effectively debate what you almost never hear. As evidence, look no further than the proclivity of many anonymous commenters to resort to ad hominem attacks when confronted with a conservative Chronicle column.
But this first effect passes over an even more deleterious result of a campus rhetoric dominated by the liberal perspective—issues in their entirety are left off the table. I’ve been at Duke for three plus years, and I have almost never witnessed debates on the national debt, entitlement reform, school choice or a host of other issues. Rather, I encounter what seem to be debates on the same issues in repeated cycles—important issues no doubt, but not wholly representative of everything worth discussing. You can partly chalk this up to political apathy, but if conservatives and libertarians had more sway in campus dialogue, these issues would be given more attention. So what’s important here is that when liberal students leave Duke, many might be departing un-versed on a plethora of issues half the country finds important.
The third and most irritating effect I would term “political narcissism.” Ensconced in an ideological cocoon devoid of counterarguments, constantly being told they are right—students can succumb to close-mindedness or, at worst, hold political views for no other reason than the plaudits they receive from others for holding them. Such political narcissism is demonstrated by the primary argument given against allowing the opposing view to be heard: that the opposing view is simply wrong and thus not worth listening too. It is the self-fulfilling prophecy of an ideology that “it” is all that is correct and thus “it” is all that is worth listening to.
So combine these three effects, and what you get is a campus political rhetoric dominated by a small set of high-priority liberal issues, with only one side of the debate presented for each one. That’s not so much an intellectual dialogue as a political pep-rally for people of the same mind.
But for those liberal students who want to enter into partisan politics or political activism, the reality of the status quo is even worse. For them, it’s not only important to be able to effectively respond to opposing sides—it’s crucial to be able to convince opposing sides. Indeed, persuasion should be one of the primary skill sets any future politico should hone in college. Yet for every one liberal column I encounter in The Chronicle that attempts to convince, I find five that simply attempt to polemically rally those who already agree.
The fact is that liberal students should seek out those who disagree with them, encouraging them to speak up and engaging their arguments—not only because it would benefit them individually, but because they should want to grow their numbers. If liberals are correct—if their stances on the issues are the end all be all, the way and the truth and the light—then a flock of vocally disagreeing students provides fresh converts to their cause. For with the truth on their side, surely four years is sufficient to persuade the non-initiated of liberalism’s empirical and normative superiority. It could be said that no one makes a better missionary than the previously converted. Why turn away an opportunity to bring more in to the fold?
I will openly admit I have generalized to a great extent by engaging a dichotomy of liberal and conservative in this column. There’s plenty in between and further out. In the spirit of “On Liberty,” my main point is that minority views in general should be given voice. The same goes for viewpoints of a more radically leftist nature—any set of ideas that currently goes unheard.
So I stand behind what I wrote in my previous column—I and other minority-viewpoint-holders benefit exponentially from the status quo, being challenged every day and made to persuade, re-characterize and reconsider. But it would be a mistake to view this rhetorical landscape as wholly beneficent, and those who should be most concerned are those most contentedly unchallenged. It is they, not I, who should be up in arms.
Daniel Strunk is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Monday. Send Daniel a message on Twitter @DanielFStrunk.